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Now, after a flurry of moves culminating on Monday, the Pads have a loftier goal: challenging the Los Angeles Dodgers for supremacy in the National League West—and the Senior Circuit as a whole.
First, to recap. In separate deals with Cleveland, the Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, the Padres added: right-hander Mike Clevinger, outfielder Greg Allen, catcher Austin Nola, right-hander Austin Adams, right-hander Dan Altavilla, right-hander Taylor Williams, first baseman/designated hitter Mitch Moreland, catcher Jason Castro, right-hander Trevor Rosenthal and a player to be named.
The Padres surrendered some key pieces, including high-upside outfield prospect Taylor Trammell, right-hander Cal Quantrill, outfielder Edward Olivares and catcher Austin Hedges, among others.
On balance, though, they got measurably better. Enough to take aim at the mighty Dodgers? Maybe.
Entering play Monday, San Diego sat at 21-15, five games behind L.A. in the NL West but in position for the No. 4 seed in the new, expanded playoff format.
Of the Padres’ 23 September games, 15 will be against the Angels, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants and the Mariners, all teams with .500 or worse records. They will also play a three-game set against the Dodgers on Sept. 14-16.
It’ll be an opportunity for San Diego to measure itself against what is, until further notice, the best team in baseball.
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The Dodgers have MLB’s best record at 26-10. They have baseball’s best run differential at plus-90. Their pitching staff paces both leagues with a 2.76 ERA, and their lineup ranks fourth with an .805 OPS.
By statistics and the eyeball test, they are a deep, dangerous and complete team. So complete, in fact, that they made no major moves at the trade deadline despite rumors linking them to Texas Rangers right-hander Lance Lynn.
With the Dodgers standing pat, the Padres had a chance to close the gap—and they took it.
The most significant addition for San Diego was Clevinger, who dealt with controversy and a temporary demotion in Cleveland after violating the team’s COVID-19 safety protocols and angering teammates.
Now, the 29-year-old gets a fresh start with the Pads. Clevinger flashed ace-level stuff and results in 2019, posting a 2.71 ERA with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 126 frames. Over 22.2 innings with Cleveland this season, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 21 strikeouts.
He’ll join a staff headlined by Dinelson Lamet (2.35 ERA, 12.0 K/9), Zach Davies (2.61 ERA, 8.1 K/9) and Chris Paddack (4.43 ERA, 8.9 K/9). Plus, the Padres managed to keep their top two pitching prospects, right-hander Luis Patino and left-hander MacKenzie Gore. Patino is already in the big leagues, and Gore could soon follow.
The Padres also shored up a bullpen that lost closer Kirby Yates to elbow surgery and entered Monday ranked 23rd with a 5.20 ERA. Rosenthal, in particular, provides San Diego with a proven late-inning arm who posted a 3.29 ERA with seven saves and 21 strikeouts in 13.2 innings for Kansas City.
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Offensively, San Diego reshuffled its catching corps with the subtraction of Hedges and the additions of Castro and Nola, but the biggest bat it acquired was Moreland.
In 22 games with the Red Sox, Moreland hit .328 with a 1.177 OPS and eight home runs. He’ll provide the Padres with an experienced left-handed power threat who can spell first baseman Eric Hosmer and get reps at designated hitter.
He joins an offense that already ranks No. 1 in OPS (.836) and runs scored (205) thanks to the dynamic duo of shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. (13 HR, 1.052 OPS) and third baseman Manny Machado (11 HR, 1.005 OPS), as well as a deep supporting cast.
These Padres can hit. They added impact arms to the rotation and bullpen. With the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, the current leaders in the NL Central and East, and other NL contenders not doing nearly as much at the deadline, San Diego now looks like the greatest threat to the Dodgers.
Catching Los Angeles in the division in such a short time will be a tall order. But the two teams could easily collide in the postseason.
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Dodgers have the edge in postseason experience as many of the Padres’ young stars such as Tatis have never been on that stage. And L.A., despite its deadline inactivity and the Padres’ myriad moves, probably still has a slight edge in talent.
But the Padres and general manager A.J. Preller worked hard to narrow the gap and set up a possible Southern California showdown come playoff time. Pop your popcorn.
“We knew A.J. would be aggressive,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters. “We look forward to playing them in September and, who knows, maybe October.”
San Diego was a postseason contender before it made a single trade. Now, the Dodgers are hearing footsteps.
All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.